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News Release, Kansas Geological Survey, July 22, 2009

New Book Provides Unique Photographic Perspective of Kansas

LAWRENCE--Lofty views of Kansas, seen regularly by soaring raptors but rarely by humans, are now accessible in a new book from the Kansas Geological Survey based at the University of Kansas.

"Kansas Physiographic Regions: Bird's-eye Views" by James S. Aber and Susan W. Aber, both with the Emporia State University Earth Science Department, features 60 of the authors' aerial photographs taken from the unusual distance of 100 to 500 feet off the ground--high above the trees but off limits to aircraft.

Using a technique known as small-format aerial photography, the Abers create their images with a remote-controlled camera launched on a kite or blimp.

"The complexity of the state's natural and cultural environments is depicted by intricate patterns, textures, and relationships that are visible at large scale in our photographs but often not seen on the ground or in conventional air photos or satellite images," said Jim Aber.

Photographs in this book highlight the state's many physiographic regions--distinguishable from each other by differences in geology, landscapes, climate, and vegetation.

From the High Plains in the west to the Glaciated Region and Ozark Plateau in the east, the Abers photographed the state's hills and lowlands, rural vistas and urban environments, marshes, mining scars, rocks, rivers, and roads.

"Our photos give the viewer greater appreciation for the sinuous beauty of a meandering stream, the scars left on the landscape from mining natural resources, and methodical planning of houses and infrastructure in cities," said Susie Aber.

Near Point of Rocks, a landmark on the Santa Fe Trail in the southwest Kansas High Plains, the tree-lined dry channel of the Cimarron River stands out as a sweeping S-curve from the air.

The geometric grid of small-town Liebenthal in the west-central Blue Hills region contrasts with Manhattan's serpentine suburban land-use patterns and Kansas City's patchwork industrial district.

"At nearly every site we photograph, we discover something unexpected because on the ground we can't see all features in the surrounding landscape at the time of our photography," Jim Aber said.

From their perspective on the ground near Coronado Heights and Lindsborg in McPherson County, the Abers saw two similar ponds side by side. After reeling in the camera they discovered one pond was clear while the other was a murky yellowish-brown, filled with sediment from runoff.

In two different shots, from two different angles, Monument Rocks in western Kansas look either like the ruins of an ancient fortress or a collection of massive bones.

Among other panoramas, the book features the Flint Hills brown and burning in April and lush green in June; two comparison photos of the same spot in Cheyenne Bottoms of central Kansas--drought-ridden in October 2006 and flooded in May 2007; Pomona Lake and other reservoirs fed by rain-filled rivers in the east; and the red shale badlands in the Red Hills of south-central Kansas where rivers and rainfall are more scarce.

The Abers have been using the photographic technique since 1996 and have taken photographs across the United States and Europe. The method is relatively inexpensive, portable, and easy to use, but not without its occasional difficulty--often related to wind and weather.

"If it is too cold the batteries do not work properly and if it is too hot, we do not perform properly," Susan Aber said.

In western Gray County during a wind-farm shoot the wind suddenly picked up, causing a turbine to turn on and nearly suck in the kite and camera but didn't stop the Abers from getting a good picture.

Along with the photographs, the book describes the geology and other attributes of the physiographic regions of Kansas, explaining why each region is unique and looks the way it does.

Copies of "Kansas Physiographic Regions: Bird's-eye Views" are available from the Kansas Geological Survey, 1930 Constant Ave., Lawrence, KS 66047-3724, 785-864-3965, or and at 4150 Monroe Street, Wichita, Kansas, 67209, 316-943-2343. The cost is $12 plus shipping and handling. Inquire about shipping and handling charges and, for Kansas residents, sales tax. More information about this book and other KGS products is available at the Survey's web site (

Note: A selection of photographs from the book can be viewed online at

Story by Cathy Evans, (785) 864-2195.
For more information, contact Jim Aber, (620) 341-5981, or Susie Aber

Kansas Geological Survey, Public Outreach